PVC has been used in a range of products for years, and unlike Europe, is still used in children’s products in Australia. There is concern a softening chemical group used in PVC called Phthalates may affect the reproductive development in children. So why has the European Union banned the use of PVC in children’s toys and childcare articles, and why does Australia seem slow to follow suite?
Well, the good news is that not all PVCs are made equal, there are a large variety of softening chemicals, or Phthalates in use. Many of these have been classified as stable and safe for general use, such as those used in cars and wiring. They typically use higher performing grades of PVC, with high molecular weight Phthalates that have been rated as safe for use by the European Union.
However, PVC using low molecular weight Phthalates such as DEHP have been identified as posing a risk to vulnerable groups such as children, frequently exposed workers, and some medical devices. As such “Under regulations introduced in January 2007 DEHP is no longer permitted in toys and childcare articles in the EU” (ref). Unfortunately DEHP is known as “one of the most cost effective and widely available general purpose plasticisers” (ref). So when you buy a product in Australia that uses PVC, there is a very good chance DEHP has been used as the softener.
So why hasn’t PVC been banned in Australia? Well, turns out is has! Maybe you knew this, but I hadn’t heard of this ban previously, so I’m especially pleased I decided to write this post. Plastic products intended for children up to 36 months that they would chew or suck, and which contain more than 1% DEHP, have been banned in Australia (visit the Product Safety Australia website for more details). I’m now trying to figure out how to subscribe to the Product Safety Australia website to keep up with the latest safety notices!
Ok, so good news on the ban for toys, but what about all the kids backpacks I’ve seen out there using PVC? Who is actually regulating the use of DEHP in these backpacks which are typically for children over 3 years? Since a lot of children’s backpacks and soft lunchboxes are using PVC (it was the question I most frequently asked at the last Melbourne trade show), and children typically handle these on a daily basis, I would personally feel a lot happier if PVC was no longer used in these products either. It seems that youth and frequent exposure are 2 key risk items identified in the EU studies.
Luckily for my sanity and a restful sleep we found that Penny Scallan moved away from PVC over a year ago, and in addition to really great designs this is a key reason we decided to stock their products at Motherslove. I just wish other Australia based brands would follow suite and avoid exposing their little customers to these chemicals. Perhaps the next time you shop this should be a question you ask to get the message across that PVC just isn’t the right way to go. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!